By David Thomas on April 26, 2007
This week the staff was behind the wheel of a couple of BMWs and an impressive family hauler. Here’s what they had to say.
2007 BMW Z4
After spending a lot of time lately writing about crossover SUVs, it was nice to get back into a car designed for drivers. The 3.0si is the most powerful non-M version of the Z4 you can get, and its 255-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six sings a sweet song at high rpms. Acceleration isn't fierce, but it's plenty strong if you're looking for an occasional thrill. Our coupe had the six-speed automatic transmission, and its manual mode featured impressive rev-matching on downshifts.
The car is planted and stable through fast corners and the handling is top-notch. The sport seats' aggressively bolstered backrests may be a little narrow for some, but they do a good job of keeping you in place when driving the car hard. For such a small car, the 12-cubic-foot cargo area adds some unexpected practicality.
There are a couple of drawbacks. The super taut sport suspension and low-profile run-flat tires make for a punishing ride on rough roads — even for a sports car. Additionally, if you're much taller than 6' 1", you'll be pushing the limits of the cabin, and over-right-shoulder visibility is significantly compromised by the coupe's large hatch.
After driving the M Coupe a few months back I knew that anything less, like this regular old Z4, would be a letdown. The non-M still handled superbly though, and I love the layout and orientation for the driver, with the long hood out front and rear tires seemingly behind your back. The power, of course, is just nowhere near the same and I couldn’t stand the paddle shifters.
Could I live with it? Sure, it’s still fun to drive and it looks great in white. Plus, at a base price of $40,400, it’s a stylish alternative to the Corvette and a completely different driving experience than an Infiniti G35 coupe. Down deep, how could you live with yourself, and your somewhat larger bank account, for not going with the M?
The CX-9 took me by surprise. It looks great from the outside, and our test model's interior was a notch or two higher in quality than the CX-7, which wasn't bad in its own right. It feels solid and substantial — a little too large and heavy to deliver the full zoom-zoom experience, but it handles better than the Hyundai Veracruz and the Saturn Outlook. Its ride quality was polite, in spite of the 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires of our test model. The acceleration is reasonably quick, thanks to the potent V-6 and six-speed transmission employed in the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, which have five seats but aren't much lighter in weight.
In my brief time with the Mazda, the things that bugged me most seem common to the brand. You can't turn off the A/C without canceling the automatic climate control. (Do we have to control the settings ourselves if we want the better gas mileage and greater acceleration that comes when the A/C compressor is off?) Also, in the sequential-shifting mode, pushing the lever forward downshifts and backward upshifts. It's not intuitive. I know, I know; BMW does it that way. If BMW jumped off a cliff...
Considering how new this class of car-based SUVs/crossovers/wagons/whatevers with three rows of seats is, there are suddenly many great choices.
I’m a fan of the Mazda brand in general and have always thought their interiors were nice for whatever class vehicle it was I was testing. The CX-9 is on a whole other level. I’ll agree with all the other comments Joe made above, but will add that our Grand Touring AWD CX-9 — the top of the line; base models start under $30,000 — as tested price with moonroof, Bose sound system and towing package came to $37,185. To me, that’s quite a deal, because it offers a level of refinement above others in the class for a similar price, and comes darn close to the Acura MDX as a family hauler. The MDX is still the better performer, but for this type of vehicle, in a relatively new segment, the CX-9 has to be at the top of the heap.
I was underwhelmed by the 760Li, even though I'm an ardent fan of the 750i and 750Li. Granted, you're not going to get twice the car for twice the price, but when you look at our model's as-tested price of just under $150,000, you want to be wowed. The 6.0-liter 12-cylinder occasionally gives you outrageous thrust, but I found it to be inconsistent, with some hunting in the transmission, and ultra conservative traction control. (Perhaps that's called for in a rear-drive car with 444 pound-feet of torque.)
The suede headliner, lush materials and powered doo-dads are all appreciated, but some of these things are in the 750, too. When you're paying twice as much, the iDrive controller is twice as insulting. BMW claims to have simplified this much-hated means of controlling features like the stereo, navigation and other functions. Not enough. The main problem is not that iDrive is hard to figure out — it's that it's clunky to use once you have figured it out.
More maddening: There's a button on the steering wheel and another on the center console that you can program with one of three or four actions. Though you can't choose the suspension, you can set it to activate night vision ... which is also a dashboard button to the left of the steering wheel. The other selectable functions are ridiculous. Either button can control the air conditioning's air recirculation ... which is less than a foot away on the dashboard. Really? Is the air that stale in Germany? Our 760 had another display and iDrive knob in the backseat. Maybe it's there so the driver can concentrate on driving ... or share the pain with his family or employer.
I know the market supports the price because the 760's supply is limited, and some people want to show off that V-12 badge on the fender. For any practical person, it doesn't add up. I'd get a 750Li — and a 750i for easier downtown parking.
So this is what $148,000 buys, huh? Perhaps the most telling thing about the BMW 760 L was its effect on passersby. Two clerks at a convenience store I stopped at knew exactly what it was, and were drooling a bit over it. One of my poker buddies literally dropped everything in his hands to get a look inside, and then under the hood. I’d bet he spent 5 minutes admiring it. My brother-in-law wanted to go for a ride in it.
The 760 did have a lot going for it. It was incredibly comfortable, perhaps the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven. It had an enormous back seat, and I can definitely see why those who can afford to have someone else drive them might want this car. The little fridge-like area in the back seat was handy, but I couldn’t really picture some wealthy exec using it; a little too bourgeois. The acceleration was impressive, once I finally broke out of bumper-to-bumper traffic. Leaving a toll booth on the interstate, I left other cars in the dust.
Still, driving a car that cost only $14k less than my first house was an exhilarating, sometimes nerve-wracking experience. I spent more time worrying about doing damage — or being the victim of a bad driver — than I did putting the V-12 to the test.
Maybe I need more time with one. Dear BMW …
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David